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27 Dec, 2021 18:36

‘Cleaning rules’ force US airline to turn back flight midair

Major US carrier Delta blames new Covid-19 cleaning rules for turning around plane that was halfway to Shanghai
‘Cleaning rules’ force US airline to turn back flight midair

Delta Air Lines halted service to Shanghai so suddenly that it turned back a flight from Seattle that was already halfway to China, reportedly leaving some passengers stranded with expiring Covid-19 tests and visas.

The recent midair reversal was prompted by new pandemic-related cleaning rules at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Delta said on Monday. The new mandates “require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta,” the airline told the Associated Press in a statement.

Delta, the second-largest US airline, didn’t elaborate on what the rule changes were or why it was necessary to call back a flight that had already been in the air for about six hours. The carrier has canceled its Seattle-Shanghai flights through at least Thursday.

The aborted flight was reportedly entering Russian airspace last Tuesday when it made a U-turn toward Seattle. It was due to land in Seoul for a crew change before continuing on to Shanghai. While a Delta spokesperson said the rule change was made after the flight left Seattle, Chinese media outlets report that Shanghai Pudong officials denied any recent change to entry requirements.

Without naming Delta, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco said on Sunday that many US flights to China had been delayed or canceled in recent days and claimed it lodged a complaint with the carrier that called back a flight midway.

Taiwanese carrier EVA Air has suspended flights from Kaohsiung and Taipei to Shanghai Pudong until February 3, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA). The airline cited new requirements for disinfecting inbound planes more thoroughly, which it said were implemented on Friday. The new rules would cause return flights to Taiwan to be delayed by up to five hours, an EVA official told CNA.

China has tightened travel restrictions to blunt the spread of Covid-19 as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on February 4.

Shanghai Pudong is one of two major airports in Shanghai and handles mostly international flights.